|Like all international terrorist groups,
Lebanon-based Hezbollah has always relied on the classic
methodology of terror: horrifying, grisly attacks and detonations
that produce mass casualties in order to garner as much press as
possible. In short, its goal is to terrorize the public as a means
of manipulating the same. Groups like Hezbollah, al Qaeda and
others continue to wage such blood-and-fire campaigns against
civilian populations. They know it works because the threat alone
is often enough to manipulate the press, too, thus frightening
them so that they will act, or react, in a certain way as well.
Today, however, terrorist groups have become more sophisticated
and their tactics do not always begin with something so overtly
terrorizing. In the case of Hezbollah, there is a new and far more
sinister weapon in its arsenal which begins with the media itself
and utilizes Hezbollah's ability to influence and even control it.
In recent years, Hezbollah has been able to influence much of the
Lebanese mainstream and alternative media, including national
media and international reporting. Increasing numbers of paid
Hezbollah sympathizers have insinuated themselves into traditional
Lebanese print and broadcast media, thus enabling them to present
stories in a way they want them to be understood. Western
journalists in Lebanon have now bought into the same influence as
well, whether wittingly or not.
This has been deliberate on the part of Hezbollah: As some
Lebanese citizens would argue, "Hezbollah is trying to wash its
public face." How do they do it? With Syrian support, Iranian
money and the infiltration of newsrooms. This is also achieved by
deceiving the Western media, showing international reporters only
that which Hezbollah wants them to see and destroying the
credibility — through the bought-and-paid-for media — of anyone
who dares to say otherwise. To tell the truth about Hezbollah and
its activities can and does result in lethal action.
A case in point: National Review's former stringer W. Thomas
Smith Jr., a former Marine, author and longtime reputable reporter
whose good name and creditable work has been sullied because he
simply got too close — a quality which, under normal circumstances,
would be revered. In September and October, Mr. Smith was in
Lebanon blogging for National Review and reporting the truth about
Hezbollah developments and activities. He was blogging, so his
first-person postings were often subjective and without sourcing,
as is normally the case with blogs.
Mr. Smith's enemies — including Hezbollah, Hezbollah's
sympathizers and their apologists in the West (many of whom
wrongly view Hezbollah and other terrorists as less threatening
than they actually are) — had to shut him up. They tried, as Mr.
Smith has been savagely and widely accused of "lying" and "fabricating,"
though such accusations have absolutely no basis in fact.
Moreover, his attackers created fancifully inaccurate stories
about what he actually wrote in order to discredit and destroy him.
In short, it was Mr. Smith's enemies who openly lied, not Mr.
Smith, enabling others to repeat the lies — classic propaganda —
so that the reality of Mr. Smith's reporting was wrongly negated
in the process.
But they've failed because Mr. Smith continues to write. And
the former Marine told me in a recent phone conversation, "My
opponents will never shut me up." However, Hezbollah's propaganda
and media manipulation doesn't end with simply buying stories,
influencing or coercing local journalists or international
correspondents and attempting to ruin the reputations of true
opposition reporters like Mr. Smith.
Hezbollah has its own Lebanese press outlets: television (Al
Manar TV), print media (Al Akhbar newspaper), smaller news sheets
and radio stations. Hezbollah also maintains Internet sites, and
it closely monitors news reporting in the West, including that on
obscure Web sites and blogs. Hezbollah also controls and monitors
telecommunications. In fact, there are a few telephone hubs for
international calls into Lebanon, and Hezbollah has direct access
to the hub for Beirut. Thus, no information gleaned from
international calls placed to confirm stories there could ever be
Simply put, Hezbollah is directly involved in virtually all
aspects of Lebanese government and society. Further, it has access
to nearly every sophisticated media tool available to us in the
West, which it uses for purposes such as crushing free speech,
distorting facts or releasing only certain stories to an unwitting
public. It also continues to use the old standbys that have served
so well in the past: libel and character assassination; direct and
indirect threats of physical harm; and, yes, murder.
Until the West, especially its own media, wakes up to this
enemy's clever tactics of denial and deception, it is clear that
the reporting of the more fearless journalists like Mr. Smith will
be silenced. Attempts will be made (some successful) by some naive
people to destroy their careers.
Tom Harb is secretary-general of the International Lebanese
Committee for U.N. Security Council Resolution 1559.
This article originally appeared in The Washington